When former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 1993 and began chemotherapy treatments in 1994, she took to wearing fashionable turbans and head scarfs, launching a turban-wearing craze in both chic and bohemian circles in New York City. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to look like Jackie Kennedy.
The same thing did not happen to me when I wore, for the first time, a handmade face mask into the grocery store a couple of weeks ago.
To be fair, not a single person told me “Lady, you’re no Jackie Kennedy.” But neither did anyone ask for my pattern. While my homemade face mask is not dyed with Culler Studio’s natural dye garden plant-based hues, nor sewn by some of the valley’s professional tailors, it’s also not a total disaster. True, it’s the first piece of apparel I’ve sewn since my 4-H days, and it shows. It looks like a facemask — just less skillfully executed. Still, it’s not like I stapled or hot-glue-gunned it together; I have my standards.
It took me a walloping dose of courage to enter the grocery store wearing a mask the first time, but I’m not quite sure why. After all, I’ve been in our local grocery stores wearing muddy running clothes, yard-work-stained Carhartts, and outrageous Little Star auction costumes, most of which involved ill-fitting cheap wigs that made a temporary dent a quarter-inch deep in my forehead. None of this ever bothered me, so I’m pretty sure it isn’t the aesthetics of mask-wearing that gave me pause.
A few weeks ago my fellow columnist Shelley wrote about masks taking away the best part of grocery shopping (other than the Coconut Bliss Cold Brew Coffee ice cream, of course): the smiles. She’s right. Grocery shopping and doing errands in the Methow Valley is about more than just answering our material needs, for food, oil filters, stamps, and chicken feed. Doing errands fills our other needs as well — our needs for connection and communication. With that mask on, it’s harder to smile at an acquaintance, harder to pause for the idle chit-chat that often turns into a meaningful conversation in the condiments aisle, harder to hold an impromptu meeting where five minutes of chance encounter ends up saving 27 emails.
Clearly — and especially as evidenced by the recent increase in positive COVID-19 cases in our county — those of us who are able should be wearing masks when we shop; I’m not arguing against that. I’m just once again reminded of what a large role these places play in our community, in meeting our needs on so many levels. And one day, when we’re able to take off the masks, we’ll all be back in these businesses, grinning widely, filling our shopping carts, feeding our souls.